Recommendations on U.S. International Religious Freedom Policy for the Biden Transition Team

January 8, 2021

As with the previous administrations, Thomas Farr, President of the Religious Freedom Institute (RFI), has provided the incoming Biden Administration with key recommendations concerning the advancement of U.S. international religious freedom (IRF) policy. 

Before outlining six key recommendations for the path ahead, Farr highlights the enormous value of religious freedom, the vast range of threats it faces globally, and the opportunity the Biden Administration will have to bring about lasting change in this area.

The Biden Administration has a remarkable opportunity, at low cost, to build on earlier achievements and, consistent with its internationalist foreign policy, reverse the downward trajectory of international religious freedom by advancing religious freedom equality.  

Among the list of recommendations that draw from successes and failures of previous administrations, Farr stresses the importance of retaining “the historic bi-partisan nature of US IRF policy by emphasizing ‘religious freedom equality.’” He explains: 

Each has benefited from the American commitment to religious freedom for everyone – religious freedom equality. They understand, or can come to understand, that the best way to protect their own is to protect everyone. The principle of religious freedom equality should be the starting point for the Biden administration’s IRF policy. 

The final recommendation is a sublist of policy proposals, much of which expands on the work of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback. Specifically, Farr calls for efforts to internationalize the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance, and the International Religious Freedom Roundtable:

Incorporate the new International Religious Freedom and Belief Alliance into the administration’s emphasis on internationalism. Grow the current membership (approximately 30 nations) to include more problematic governments of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Internationalize the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, held at State in 2018 and 2019, and held virtually by the Poles in 2020. Confirm and secure offers from Brazil and the UK to host in the next two years, respectively. Seek a Muslim-majority host, such as Indonesia, in 2023.

Continue internationalizing the IRF roundtables – gatherings of civil society leaders and government officials in nations all over the world. Currently approaching 100 participating nations, the roundtables diversifies religious freedom discussions beyond governments and provides a pillar for democratic stability.

Farr concludes by urging the Biden administration to “envision a world of ‘religious realism’…This is not a utopian vision, but one which reflects the reality of humanity’s deeply spiritual nature.” Moreover, such a world would see the advancement of other rights and social goods: 

A world characterized by religious freedom equality would not solve every problem. Nor would it be easily achieved. But its potential for advancing human dignity, social harmony, political stability, economic development, the rights of women and of minorities, and international peace renders the effort extraordinarily important – for America and the world. 

Read Farr’s Recommendations for the Biden Transition Team.